Wednesday, May 28, 2003

A visit to a "Word-of-Faith" church

A friend invited me to a lunch-time sermon at his church. I thought it might be part of the word-of-faith movement but decided to attend for a few reasons:
1. Hear the teaching for myself
2. Show desire for unity with Christians of another ethnicity
3. Respect for my friend

The 40-minute sermon had the stereotypical ring: "Words that you speak are creative power". "Speak what you want to have it in your life". Etc.

There was repeated and strong emphasis upon the need for studying God's word and having faith during trials. But their problem lies in why we should have faith in God's Word. Rather than delighting in God Himself regardless of your life's situation, the pastor focused on delighting in the things God promises those with faith: "Success". "Destiny". And other undefined but appealing terms. The teaching makes much of ME and, in effect, little of God, although He is invoked often enough. God is esteemed, but for the wrong reason. His power, His Word, His future plans, all exist for your personal benefit. The riches of Christ are slyly changed to "riches" from Christ. God's ultimate purpose is to bless ME. This is dangerous teaching that is sure to disappoint.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Affluence Obscures Your Need for God. Think of how many people make around $50K a year or more. On this mostly civilian base (more than 10,000 civilians) I've learned that most do. This seems to be a sufficient amount of money to make you comfortable enough to not see a need for God in your life. In today's affluent America, the only time the cultural majority turn to God is either during a national crisis (think "9/11') or a personal crisis (e.g. death of a loved one). The rest of the time, which is nearly all the time, life is too busy and comfortable to consider the reality of hell and whether you're ready to meet your Maker.

The gloomy fact is that the majority of Christians educate their children so that they, too, can enjoy a job that makes at least $50K a year. Our antipathy for the blue-collar life is so strong, that it causes us to forget the great danger of wealth. It depresses me to see so many Christians living the yuppie life, just like the rest of the world. Gradually, God becomes less and less as their dependence and aspirations turn more and more to the blessings of the almighty dollar.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

A Simple Desire. I desire to be a trusted teacher, an effective evangelist, a powerful preacher, a gifted communicator, a respected theologian, a highly-prized mentor. Gradually, I see that each of these attainments are out of my reach. However, I can be a godly man and raise godly seed. This is doable. And I'm gradually coming to see great contentment in this simple desire.

Friday, May 23, 2003

James River. Last night I returned from Richmond, Virginia where I stayed downtown near the 19th century canals off of the James River. This was the "interstate" of that era, the main export and import traffic system for the town. Surprisingly, the river is quick and treacherous. A prayer for "Traveling Mercies" would be something much more meaningful in that time. How much do our modern comforts and convienences lull us into neglecting the Comforter and the Mercy-Giver?

Also, this month's Ligonier Tape of the Month was better than usual. R.C. covered the judgment of Christ for believers and tied our present obedience to our future rewards. And he didn't forget that God "crowns His own gifts" in us.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Deep Water. Since I last blogged there's been 3 developments concerning choosing a church and baptism position.

Kristin and I enjoyed dinner with Dave Hamlin and family last week. He's a more experienced baptismal-wrestler than I and got me thinking that perhaps neither the RB (Reformed Baptists) or PB (PaedoBaptists) position may be completely correct.

Kristin and I enjojed lunch with an associate pastor from a local PCA church. He got me thinking that there's a danger to a thorough doctrinal study. When you're down in the weeds for a long time it's hard to keep your eyes on Christ. Instead of being Christ-centered and grace-focused, we major on something that is not as major as Christ.

Also I finished the article, "A String of Pearls Unstrung". It's the best I've read so far from the RB position, but still my conscience (Scripture-shaped?) thinks the RBs ignore regeneration in infants ("From my mother's breast you have caused me to trust in You. From the womb You have been my God", etc). If someone is not old enough to confess Christ they're convinced that that person is an unbeliever. The strongest point I saw in the article is an apparent inconsistency in the PB position between particular atonement and New Covenant membership. They ask, if Christ's blood was effectual for the salvation of only the elect, and the New Covenant is administered in His blood, then how can there be any non-elect in the New Covenant? Therefore the sign of the New Covenant, baptism, should be withheld until you have some evidence that this person is elect.

Duane Garner suggests I critique how Baptists (and many Presbyterians) define "elect". I'll add this to my list of things to study--there's much more connected to understanding baptism than meets the eye.

Friday, May 16, 2003

Forgiving my son in light of God's Sovereignty. What happens when you: Borrow a bike with one missing handlebar grip. Ride it in a driveway packed with vehicles. Circle the vehicles so that the missing handlebar grip faces inward. Answer: You get really deep and long scratches down the sides of the vehicle.

This is what Eli did last night to our nice, new van (bought less than 2 months ago). It wasn't vandalism, it wasn't malicious, it just happened. And now the challenge is ours. Do we seethe with anger over our spoiled earthly treasure? Or do we remember the parable of the man who had been forgiven much and store up treasures in heaven?

Many would blame this on bad luck and give woe to the one through whom it came. But the Christian should look for God's hand in it and not murmur against Providence.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Why Bother? Many Christians have this attitude when trying to decide which position is correct on issues like the Doctrines of Grace, Baptism, etc. They think, "If the brightest Christian scholars couldn't agree which is the right position after hundreds of years of argument, why should I try?" And so they don't. And they're suspicious of anyone who tries to teach a certain position; convinced that this nobody couldn't possibly have figured it out when all the somebodys in the Church are still divided.

The problem is that if you ignore all the debates in the Church, you've got little left to believe in. Everything is being debated by people more studied than you are; the Lordship of Christ, what is the gospel, what is a Christian, etc. By choosing to ignore all the issues you box yourself in, unable to grow at all.

Christians must "watch their life and doctrine closely"; this means there's hard work to be done. We must apply ourselves to the Scriptures and evaluate the teachings of men. The reason scholars argue is because these things are important for your life. You will grow as you wrestle. Determine where you stand today on the issues. Ensure the foundation of your conscience is consistent with Scripture. Stand firm where you are, but be willing to admit error and to step to the next level when warranted.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Like Ishmael? When I asked a seminary-trained Reformed Baptist how he views the children of believers, he said "like Ishmael". My jaw continues to drop when I think of that remark. To be fair to him, I'm sure I caught him off guard and given time to think it through he would change his answer.

I continue to think this issue through. I finished Mark Horne's article, Is God the God of the Mature Professing Christian Only? It's a refutation of Greg Welty's critique of paedobaptism which I commented on last week. Here's the basic paedobaptist argument:
- Baptism is the sign of the New Covenant and incorporates you into Christ's body, the Church
- Just like the OT covenants there are elect and non-elect in the New Covenant, but which are elect and which are not is unknowable to man
- The covenant can be broken; unbelieving baptized individuals will be cut out of Christ and should be excommunicated from the church
- Since the elect will possess a persevering faith, by grace, all Covenant Keepers, whether infant or adult, should be considered regenerate
- There is a "special elect" among the children of the elect, and the door of baptism (into the Church) must not be closed to them through the offense that others cause

I will continue to study this topic, but Mark's paper explained Covenant Theology at a low enough level so that I could understand most of it. Some questions remain, but my conscience (hopefully shaped by Scripture) affirms that God must also be the God of my children.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Re-thinking what I look for in a Church. Kristin and I had the pastor of Covenant PCA over for lunch today; he's pastored this flock (currently around 80 folks) since 1979. In addition to respecting his length of service to this body, I also admire this man of almost 60 for homeschooling his children from the start. He was homeschooling before homeschooling was cool. And for the right reasons.

Admittedly, the church has some serious people problems. The gurus in the PCA would probably classify it an ember, not a flame.

But the pastor's admonition about church-shopping hit me pretty hard. "It's unbiblical for Christians to focus on what a church offers. Jesus came to serve, not to be served. God has invested a lot in you; and it's for a reason. He doesn't pour into you, He pours through you for others’ sake". These words don’t deny that the Baileys have legitimate needs; including other like-minded people to spur us on. But my mind has been challenged to wonder, "Is it biblical to reject a church because the laity aren't as strong and healthy as I'd like"?

Monday, May 12, 2003

Wash her with the Word. Men, one way to help your wife grow in grace is to give her a sabbatical. Send her off occassionally for a night in a different place and give her a powerful book and a meaty sound recording. Make sure she brings a craft or two that she never gets to at home because of her family responsibilities. A nice hotel may make the arrangements easy, but you may want to give her a different kind of experience. An agrarian bed and breakfast is probably better for reflection. A night in a Mennonite-like community may also be eye-opening.

Friday, May 09, 2003

"It's too late". Those are the words of a co-worker whose 12 year old daughter just learned from her abstinence class the 'how-to's of oral sex, and various erotic behaviors. The mother, my co-worker, pre-approved her daughter for this class based upon a review of the curriculum, which seemed okay to her. She also watched the class's video. But what she couldn't control were the words the instructor added to the curriculum and video. And how can she prove to the school whether her daughter learned these things from the teacher or from friends? It's too late; never trust a school that considers it their responsibility to teach children how to have sex.
Hangin' with David Brainerd. If you've read the journal of this early American missionary, you'll recall that most of his reflections were depressive. He was constantly beset with difficulties which continually reminded him that he could only find delight in God.

Today I find myself in need of this reminder again. We've had a week of sickness in the home (Isaiah and Kristin). Most depressingly, I've just been informed that a long and godly friend of mine now finds his conscious in conflict with a core doctrine of the Christian faith. I don't feel it's appropriate to elaborate on this in such a public forum, but this is a huge disappointment to me. Another report comes in of persistence in a man-centered gospel at a church that is very dear to me.

But nothing is arbitrary--God's purposes shall prevail. He has not changed; He is my rock.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

I heard about this Georgia hallmark during yesterday's newcomer's orientation. President Jimmy Carter draws a crowd for Sunday School at Maranatha Baptist Church. Each year 10,000 visitors pack the church to get a glimpse of him and perhaps a group photo (see the church's FAQ to learn how). This reminds me of Catholics massing to see a weeping statue or a stain in the shape of the Virgin Mother. Shouldn't this church be concerned that they've exchanged the glory of God for the renown of a semi-famous man? In their attempt to use celebrity to reach many with the gospel, I'm afraid they're exalting the wrong king. Jesus doesn't need the help.
As Dave Hamlin pointed out a while back, when you attempt to study baptism you soon end up trying to understand covenants. Based on my reading of Welty, here is the basic Reformed Baptist argument: "The New Covenant is unbreakable and is made only with the elect. Baptism is the sign of the New Covenant. Therefore only the elect should be baptized." Also, there seems to be a presupposition that a "credible profession of faith" indicates someone is elect. Since infants cannot profess, they are not to be assumed elect and thus mustn't receive the sign of the New Covenant.

Before I can accept or reject any argurments, I need to understand the position. So I plan to read the best I can find from the Reformed Baptist perspective to ensure I correctly represent this position.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

I attended the New Members class at the Reformed Baptist church last night. It was basically Christianity 101, with a well-done (i.e. God-centered) gospel presentation. Even though I was a little dissapointed not to be presented with any specific info about this church, the meeting was interesting in what cultural insights I gained. Several of the families present just moved from nearby towns and decided to change churches, too. The thinking is "let's go to the nearest Baptist church", and there are plenty to choose from here. I suppose this explains why the pastor presented the gospel and nothing else. In the Bible-belt culture you're expected to be active in a church, whether you're a believer or not.

Also, I finished reading Greg Welty's "Critique of Paedobaptism". I can't help but be biased, but I think any decent Bible student could find several leaps and misperceptions in his work; nonetheless he has a couple good points. Now I've started Mark Horne's lengthy critique of Welty's effort. After that I plan to read another reformed baptist article that looks more promising, "A String of Pearls Unstrung".

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Striptease Show Ends on Military Base
Each day at the base fitness center a 30 minute advertisement for "Hollywood's Hottest Nude Scenes" plays. Thinking that "I really don't need anymore temptation to fornication, thank you", I've complained to the gym staff about this but with no real effect. But yesterday God delivered the gym staff into my hands! The base commander hopped on a recumbant bike in front of the right TV during the right time--Providence! Remarkably, he didn't seem to notice the flick, so I waited for him to finish the bike ride and respectfully introduced myself and my complaint. He took care of the gym staff and the show was pulled.

Speaking of immodesty among women, the new "Daughters of Zion" Basement Tape (See "Eargate" for link) is very beneficial. One point they make relating to the theme of this post is that in the past a woman belonged to one man, either Father or Husband. But due to feminism, the women of our culture belong to all men. For example, they dress in a way to get the attention of all men, etc. I doubt the HSC's views are a majority report even in the reformed church, but I find it full of wisdom for the building of the Kingdom.

Monday, May 05, 2003

I developed a new conviction over the weekend--I'm anti-pine. A strong storm cell passed through Friday night, cancelling T-ball for Saturday, and raining down a B-52's worth of pine tree parts and pieces. The oaks and dogwoods in our yard held their own, but the pines seem to enjoy randomly distributing their prickly cones and limbs everywhere at the slightest whiff.

God is also bringing some clarity to our church decision. Sunday found us back at the Reformed Baptist church, where the senior pastor is said to affirm the New Covenant movement. Besides the bapstimal issues I'm already wrestling with, we'll also differ in views of the Lord's Supper and the Sabbath. This may partially explain why the church doesn't take Lord's Supper during the regular worship service, but only once a month during an evening service. Kristin and I discussed last night how most Christians don't worry about these kind of differences so long as you like the people (which we do), but I have to affirm that beliefs have consequences. And I want to join a church unreservedly, one that won't feed my super-human ability to be contrary during corporate worship. To this end, we've added our name to the Family-Integrated Church list as a "seeker" in this area. I doubt anything will come of it, but we'll see.

Friday, May 02, 2003

A Boy and His Frog (and more strange things about Middle Georgia). Eli may have found his calling -- professional frog-catcher. I learned recently that before this was a military base, it used to be a swamp; so frogs, snakes, and gators (allegedly!) still roam the earth. This also explains the regular drive-by shootings (of mosquitoes) done from the back of a pick-up truck--picture a fumigator on wheels. And the neighbor recently rented a machine that bales pine-needles--first one of those I've ever seen. And then there's the squirrels. If it weren't for their fuzzy-tails, you'd think we were living in the midst of a prairie-dog colony. Lots of bait for those gators.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

Using Covenant Theology to deny Paedobaptism? This article is the most interesting I've read on the Reformed Baptist's refusal of infant baptism. I still have issues with their position, but I'm pleased that the author at least recognizes the importance of continuity between the Old and New Testaments. If you get a chance, let me know what you think.